By Joanne Wallis
Australian Defence white papers have long identified the strategic import of ‘a secure South Pacific and Timor-Leste’. As renowned strategic thinker T.B. Millar once reflected, Papua New Guinea is an ‘an exposed and vulnerable front door’, as if it was in ‘hostile hands’ it would ‘make attacks on our east coast much easier—Port Moresby, after all, is closer to Sydney than Darwin is’.
Australia is Papua New Guinea’s largest aid and military donor (primarily via the Defence Cooperation Program and the Pacific Patrol Boat program), and trade and investment partner. Australia also effectively gave PNG a security guarantee under the 1987 Joint Declaration of Principles, as reaffirmed in the 2000 Defence White Paper (PDF). Consequently, Australia has been able to exercise considerable influence over Papua New Guinea for much of the period since its independence.
This situation is changing. Papua New Guinea now has new opportunities which are eroding Australia’s influence.